Perhaps the single most important element in the success or failure of a family business is the relationship among key members of the business family. Most businesses can survive the threats of competition, economic cycles, changes in technology, or other factors, but the deterioration of interpersonal relationships will devastate the business and tear apart the family. Both the direct and opportunity costs can be monumental. If family members spend just one hour per day bickering, avoiding each other, or talking to others about family problems, the cost of lost productivity is measurable based on a personīs salary. Perhaps even more costly can be the opportunities which will be missed because of the conflicts.
Edwin and Colette Hoover in their excellent book, Getting Along in Family Business: The Relationship Intelligence Handbook, define a family company as any business in which business and family relationships have significant impacts on each other. Whatever impacts the family is likely to reverberate through the business and vice versa. Unfortunately, little is taught about how to build good relationships. Yet there are skills which can be taught to make working together and living together more rewarding and enjoyable. These skills form a pyramid which, if implemented, will help improve relationships within the family and the business.
The foundation for building good relationships is open and honest communication. Often poor communication is the biggest problem, and work done on this element can pave the way for improved relations. Parties must be willing to address issues that might be touchy or controversial. Avoidance only makes the problems more severe when they surface… and surface they will. Equally damaging is silent agreement just to keep the peace. Find ways to disagree without belittling or enraging the other party.
Communication must be built upon honesty, otherwise the other party(ies) can have misunderstandings which will ultimately damage the relationship more than the initial confrontation. Remember that about 70 percent of all communication is non-verbal. Your body language may negate your words and call into question whether your communication is honest. Your tone of voice often conveys more than what you say. Take care to remove sarcasm, anger, doubt, and superiority from your speech.
Active listening is another vital part of good communication skills. Seek to understand rather than be understood... a good axiom to follow in building relationships. Like a building constructed on a faulty foundation, relationships that do not start with honest and open communication are doomed to crumble.